April 2013 | Christabelle Noronha

'Developing our people for growth is the key at JLR'

Simon Lenton is a recent addition to the ever-expanding Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) organisation, but more than 30 years of experience in management and human resources has fine-tuned this jazz guitar enthusiast’s understanding of the rhythm of a big-company workforce. Speaking about the people outlook at JLR, Mr Lenton tells Christabelle Noronha that HR is more than just a function, that it is one of the pillars supporting the company as it sets about achieving its “performance challenge”. Its people are vital in realising this objective and, as one survey has it, JLR is on a good wicket in this regard.

 

What are the focus points of the HR practice at JLR and the policies that are pursued in this regard?
Our overall business strategy is focused on our ambition to become an even more successful player in the global premium vehicle market. In HR our strategies are concerned with priming the organisation to achieve the performance challenge through our people. We have five core focus areas: engagement, capable people, great leadership, protection, and enabling change. All of these contribute to delivering a high-performance company.

What are the HR challenges specific to JLR? Have these challenges changed in their order of importance over the years?
I am only in my ninth week here in the role, so I don’t have everything clear yet. Nevertheless, I think that many of the key HR challenges in JLR are similar to those faced by other global organisations: managing global expansion effectively, finding and retaining scarce and key skills, and managing the influx of new people to the company.

The challenges facing HR have changed significantly as JLR has become more successful and ambitious, and we feel the growing pains of rising to the challenge of ‘stretch objectives’. I think that some of the HR challenges specific to JLR are related to our long history of differing ownership, which has led to a complex structure of terms, conditions and benefits.

Employee engagement has been for JLR more than just about tokenism. How exactly does this engagement unfold in the company and what are its salient features?
Our employees are proud to work for JLR and are absolutely passionate about our products; they have a real commitment to the company. We have many long-serving employees and a very low turnover rate. This level of emotional attachment needs to be nurtured and reinforced through regular, open and honest communication. We involve employees in continuous improvement activities, set them stretch objectives and demand high performance. In return, we offer competitive pay, industry-leading benefits and a unique employee value proposition — working for iconic brands in one of the most successful companies in the United Kingdom.

How do you get employees to buy into the concepts the company pursues? How important are the unions in this initiative?
We communicate regularly with employees, managers and employee representatives to update them on business imperatives and gain their buy-in. The feedback we receive from salaried employees suggests we are getting this right. We work closely with our trade unions and employee consultative body; we talk through proposed changes, understand areas of concern and work together to come up with solutions.

The vast proportion of our production workers are trade union members, so a close and open relationship with our trade union is essential. This is positive, especially since we have been performing well and reaching full capacity in our plants.

JLR has been recognised for its commitment to supporting employees with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities and women. Is there a structure to this programme, and how does the company benefit from it?
Our ‘dignity at work’ policy is one of the cornerstones of our culture at JLR. It’s about treating everyone with respect and ensuring that the workplace is a safe, positive and welcoming environment for all. This means we have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, and this philosophy also flows through to our policies and the way in which we approach workplace issues.

We have diversity councils across all areas of our business. These comprise employees at all levels alongside trade union colleagues. It is they who make the policy and who ensure that it comes to life in their areas. All our new hires are briefed on dignity-at-work principles as part of their induction, which aims to raise understanding and awareness of what behaviour is expected at JLR and how to effectively deal with any issues.

You have hired some 8,000 new employees over the past two years. What kind of challenges does such large-scale recruitment bring with it?
The first challenge is in finding the right people to join JLR. We centralised our volume recruitment activities, developed a strong employer brand and used external partner organisations to support us with recruitment advertising and candidate identification and management. The strength of our brand and our reputation as an employer has meant that for many of our volume recruitment campaigns we have had large numbers of applicants, which brings its own challenges, including keeping these candidates engaged in the process and updated on their progress.

Once new hires are on board, there are two crucial challenges. The first is ensuring that our new colleagues can get up to speed quickly; the other is capitalising on the insights and fresh approach they bring to the business. We have established programmes that provide new hires with an overview of the business, give them some experience of our products and enable them to meet other new colleagues from all over the business.

In a recent interview with Tata Review, chief executive Ralf Speth spoke about the difficulties JLR faces in “getting specialists with advanced skills across many functions, especially in technological areas”. What is the nature of these difficulties?
Due to the innovative nature of our business we are often developing or working with new technologies, for example, hybrids. In some cases there are few people in the labour market with the type of skill we need. Recruiting engineers with the right skills to support some more established technologies can also be difficult, especially in areas where there are few manufacturers using or developing this skill in the United Kingdom. For such scarce skills we have had to be more creative in identifying suitable candidates.

Your graduate and apprenticeship schemes appear to be crucial when taking on fresh talent. How do these schemes help in moulding engineers and technologists?
These schemes provide us with a great pipeline of young talent entering our business, people with the potential to become our future leaders. Our graduate and apprentice training programmes are comprehensive and equip trainees with the technical, professional and personal capabilities to deliver high performance, as well as providing them with personal development opportunities.

As JLR expands around the world and adds employees from different cultures and regions, what kind of complications are you encountering, and how are you coping with them?
Our horizons have broadened over the last few years as our markets have expanded and our employee base has increased. We have been a fairly United Kingdom-centric, inwardly focused organisation, so the challenge is to listen and understand what is required in different markets and cultures, rather than just provide what we think is required because we have assumed that everyone’s needs are the same.

Increasingly, we are working closely with colleagues, partners, customers and suppliers on a much more global basis, particularly in emerging markets. It is critical that we make decisions and see things from a market perspective.

The company has been on a high for a while now in terms of revenues and profits. Are such moments the best time to forge closer and deeper relationships with employees?
We are always keen to build the relationship between our employees and the company and have managed to do so successfully through both success and adversity. We have shared our success through pay increases and bonuses, in recognition of the contribution of our employees to business performance.

Work-life balance is a big issue among employees everywhere. JLR seems to be doing plenty to enable its people to strike the right balance. Could you tell us about your efforts on this front?
We have a variety of policies which support flexible working and enable employees to manage their life holistically. Our intense engagement levels mean that employees put in a high degree of discretionary effort, and they feel personally motivated to do so. We are currently looking at what more we can do to enable employees to work more flexibly, to give them further choice and allow them to successfully integrate their home and work lives in a way that suits their personal circumstances. All this while delivering business needs.

Leadership development finds frequent mention as an HR challenge, especially of late. What has the experience of JLR been on this issue?
Over the last three years, we have significantly increased our investment in leadership development. We are working to deliver hugely stretched business objectives and our leaders need to be supported and developed through the stretch. We have worked with world-leading executive education providers to put in place programmes that focus on strategy and execution. These programmes have been designed to create a strong network of leaders across all functions so that we reduce silos and make the most of our collective talent across the business.

There must be plenty of opportunities across the Tata group to compare HR practices in different companies and borrow what’s best. Does that happen in a substantial manner?
Tata companies in the United Kingdom have an HR forum where HR leaders come together to share best practices and discuss issues of common interest. In addition, we participate in the Tata Business Excellence Model process, which gives us a great framework to assess our people strategy and HR delivery. Of course, we also benchmark with other auto manufacturers and leading companies.

What do you see as the HR challenges of the future for JLR?
It is still early days for me, but I accepted the role because I relished the challenges that JLR had to offer. They are significant ones; people challenges always are. I think, first and foremost, the business has gone through dramatic growth already and it is working to adjust to this, but also to maintain the trajectory. I want to introduce more planning around how we organise, identify and grow the resources we need, and build capability.

I also want to see us improving our effectiveness across the business. As we increase our scale we need to find opportunities and we need to compete with the big automotive businesses on performance and efficiency. I want us to be exceptional at identifying and growing talent and ensuring that it is well rewarded. In particular, I want us to engage our people with the potential of JLR and also with the possibilities they can see for themselves in our shared future together. ¨

About Jaguar Land Rover
  • Jaguar Land Rover is a business built around two iconic British car brands. Jaguar Cars, founded in 1922, is one of the world's premier manufacturers of luxury saloons and sports cars. Land Rover has been manufacturing 4x4s since 1948 and has defined the segment.
  • Consolidated revenues of £13,512 million in the financial year 2011-12.
  • Number of employees: 16,000 plus.

 

This interview is a part of the cover story of the April 2013 issue of Tata Review in which human resource heads of eight Tata companies speak about developing and taking care of their talent pool:
Overview
Interview with Suresh Tripathy, the head of HR at Tata Steel
Interview with Prabhir Jha, Tata Motors' chief human resources officer
Interview with Rackanchath Nanda, head of human resources at Tata Chemicals
Interview with R Rajnarayan, senior vice president and chief HR officer at Titan Industries
Interview with KS Srinivasan, head of human resource management at Tata Global Beverages
Interview with Chetan Tolia, chief HR officer at Tata Power
Interview with Madan Tripathy, vice president for HR and business excellence at Rallis India